Having sales targets is one thing. But achieving them is quite another. That’s where a comprehensive sales plan comes in. It’ll help you get all those jumbled thoughts and vague plans for world domination clear in your mind, and funnel them down into achievable goals.
Creating the perfect sales plan isn’t a one-off deal. It takes time to build it up and work out the details. And like everything else in business, you can expect it to change with little or no notice.
Every journey begins with a single step - think of your sales plan as that first footprint on your path to success.
1. Write a snapshot of your business
Summarise what you do and how you fit into your industry. This should only be a few paragraphs, but it will help crystallise what you want, and how you can get it. Is this a sales plan for potential investors, or just for you? If it’s the former, remember that you may need to make your business clear to someone who may not be very familiar with your industry. And if it’s the latter, this is a great opportunity to clarify your vision for your business.
Keep it brief, and make use of bullet points and graphics to give a flavour of what you’re doing.
2. Define your offering
Clarify whatever it is that’s unique about your offering – does it save money, promise a life of luxury or solve a common problem? You’ll need to be clear about what you can offer that makes you unique and poised for sales success. If you can’t persuade yourself, it’s not going to be easy to persuade anyone else.
3. Examine your industry
Once you’ve got it clear about who you are and what you do, take a long, hard look at the competition. Identify where your niche is, and how you can show that you’re unique.
Spell out your position in the market. Are you a premium provider looking for high net-worth buyers? Or are you in a crowded market but offering a more competitively priced product for a specific type of customer. Examine your key customer values and factors that influence purchase, and see how you measure up against your competitors on each of these. Creating a spider diagram to visualise where you are positioned can help.
Be as clear as you can about where you stand and how you can stand out.
4. Take a close look at your customers
Think about who you want to sell to – and who you need to sell to. Are you going for sales volume or high worth? Take your analysis from above and fill in more detail about them. In addition to their needs and wants, use primary and secondary research to understand more about what type of media they consume, their lifestyle and similar information that can help you refine your sales messages. You may even like to engage with some customers directly to test what sales messages are likely to resonate with them.
As well as thinking about your current customers, consider how you see your customer base developing in the short and longer term – ensure there is enough growth potential to sustain your sales goals.
5. Outline what makes you different
Once you’ve clarified who you are, what you do, who you’re selling to and who else is doing what you do, you can move on to what makes yours the best business to buy from. Whether you’re trying to excite potential investors or creating clarity for yourself, you’ll need a confident statement of why you’re poised to succeed.
Consider defining yourself in terms of your competition, and focus on what makes you different.
Don’t be modest, if you’ve got something worth selling, you should be proud of it.
6. Spell out your sales and marketing plans
This is the real meat of it – you’ve explained why you’re going to sell, now it’s time to identify how.
Examine your pricing structure and give it some serious thought. Don’t just pluck figures out of the air. Research your competitors and price accordingly – if you’re more expensive you’ll need to have a good reason for being so. Bear in mind any reasons why you might have to increase prices, like changing suppliers, increased manufacturing costs, proposed taxes or compliance legislation.
Be realistic about how much you expect to make in your given time period. Use your previous sales results as a guide or if you’re a new business, ask around. This isn’t the time to wear rose-coloured glasses or be overly optimistic, but don’t sell yourself short either.
Outline your sales approach
Identify where and how your sales activity will take place. Cold calling? A shop or stall? Building online affiliates? Be clear about how you’re going to sell and map out the process, from first approach, to post-sale support.
Outline your advertising approach
Will you be mostly online, in print, using social media or word of mouth? Include any prospective budgets for your advertising spend as well as your approach for tracking the success of your strategy. Consider this for both short and long-term selling.
Keep it clear, keep it precise and keep it handy – the most successful sales plan is the one you find yourself referring to and refining on a regular basis.
Every sales plan is a work in progress. You’re always going to come up against things you didn’t expect and circumstances may change. Your sales plan is a guide, and should be constantly open to review. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to jump every time things get difficult – that will be your call.
And remember, there’s no ‘right’ way to draw up a sales plan. It can be as long or as short as you feel it needs to be, but try to limit it to the essentials, and don’t let yourself get too bogged down in the detail.